She Left Him With An Angel

The wedding party was underway.  Dinner was over.  Vows were exchanged. Soon it would time to cut the cake.  A couple of great guys just made it official in front of family and friends. 

The Italian restaurant was the perfect backdrop for an informal affair.  The food was excellent.  The space was perfect.  The group represented those who embraced the union fully and those who had a bit harder time with understanding and accepting the new paradigm–but who were there nonetheless…wonderfully stretching the limits of their embrace.

A new beginning.  A life together.  A new start for two committed souls who pledged to become one.  A beautiful expression of love and hope and joy as they officially started their lives together. 

I picked up my vodka ‘ondaroks’ and weaved my way through the crowd, through the restaurant, past the bar and out onto the side patio.  No one else was outside…it was a bit chilly.  Lit my cigarette and sat down for a minute.  I didn’t know many people at the wedding, so I settled in for my moment of quiet, thinking a bit about my friends’ commitment to each other.  How proud I was of them.  I thought about how hard it must have been for some of their family members to accept what just happened.  I thought about how cool it was that these two friends found each other and wondered if I would ever be so lucky. 

Sipped my drink and puffed away.  Thinking.  Looking at the shadows cast on the building next door by the barren branches of the trees moving ever so slightly from the breeze.  It was quiet.

It was then that two young guys popped out on the patio.  There were a lot of tables and chairs on the large empty space.  But, one of the young men asked if I minded if he sat down at my table.  I said sure.  The two of them were sipping their Long Island Teas.  A couple of handsome kids, clearly great friends.  They seemed a bit quiet…almost whispering…pensive.  The one sat down.  The other, at first, stayed standing at the side.  They both lit up as well. 

We chatted for a moment.  They weren’t from the wedding, but had just eaten dinner.  I told them I had never been there before and was surprised I hadn’t since the restaurant had such a good reputation…and it was proven to me during the evening–a dimly lit, warm place just packed with revelers obviously enjoying the good food and atmosphere. 

It was then the young man sitting said, “My wife died a few days ago.”  I reacted in shock.  My mood instantly changed.  I was no longer “at the wedding” or at the restaurant or on the patio.  I was now in a new place…a space that only existed right there where we were sitting.  “I am so sorry,” I said ineptly.

The second guy explained that it was the first night out for his friend…that they needed to get out, eat dinner and try as they might to find some relief.

He was so young.  24 years old.  Whatever happened, of course, simply had to be horrific.  I was dumbfounded.  That’s the only way I can describe it.

He answered every question I had with clarity and grace beyond his years.  I asked if they had children and he said, yes, a boy.  When I asked how old their boy was, he said, “Three days.”  Three days?  Wait.  What?

I discovered that it was more tragic than anything I could fathom.  They had been together since they were 13.  They had been married for four years, I think.  She was a nursing student, thrilled about her progress and impending graduation. They were expecting their first child together, thrilled at the prospect of their growing family.  She was healthy.  There were no problems during the pregnancy.  They were planning for the future.  Three days ago all was well and they eagerly awaited the birth of their son. 

Then, the unimaginable happened.  She died in childbirth.  Something about the amniotic fluid leaking…I didn’t fully understand…still in shock that in this day and age such a thing could occur. 

So, here was this young man…clearly in stress…sharing his story with me about his beautiful wife, their hopes and dreams fulfilled with the birth of their son.  And she was gone.  Just like that.  And now he was a single father with a three-day-old son mourning the loss of his soulmate.  A son who will never meet his mother. And, will only hear the stories of how his mother died after giving him life.  And, this young man is now facing a future that he must embrace through the tears of his loss.  At 24 they had shared eleven years together…almost half of their lives on earth. 

All I could do was try to express my sorrow for him.  I tried to understand but explained I couldn’t.  I could only imagine the pain.  The loss.  The fear.  The anger.  The hurt in his heart.  I started to choke up.  It wasn’t a time to talk about fate or destiny or life’s blows.  All I could muster was assuring him that “She is here.  She loves you and your child and she hurts for you as well.”  Without hesitation he said he knew that, too. 

When asked, they both assured me he has a plethora of support and love from family and friends.  I asked him to honor every single feeling he has now from misery to joy, from lethargy and withdrawal to lashing out.  That no matter what he felt or experienced that it was okay.  It’s all I could say.  I had no other words of wisdom or understanding.  I ached for the ability to share something meaningful with him…something, anything…to help him. 

I told him that somehow I knew I would never forget him.  And, that I would say a prayer for him.  Through tears, I told him boldly…unabashedly…assuredly…that I loved him.  I don’t know where that came from or why.  I reached over and just said it.  I felt it.  I knew it.  And he reached out with his hand to shake mine and he unequivocally looked me in my eyes and said, “I love you” back to me.  And, then, thanked me.  

He thanked me.  

I still don’t understand.

I navigated my way back through the restaurant..through the din of conversation…dodging servers as if in a surreal world.  I entered the reception hall where the music had been turned up, the cake had been cut and the guests were standing with each other talking, laughing, posing for pictures celebrating this new union of love…a couple embarking on a bright future together.  A juxtaposition of life’s most incredulous moments of joy and pain merged together in my heart.  

Soon, we all helped clear out the photo booth and the flower arrangements, gathering our cameras and belongings and saying goodbye.  A group of us joyfully crowded into the enormous stretched limousine with music and flashing lights and began drinking the champagne in a roar of heartfelt laughter and joy for our two special friends.  

I knowingly, willingly joined them in shots of Fireball between sips of champagne. Trying to forget…

…trying to numb myself to the experience of the two worlds that were revealed to me during the evening.  All I really managed to do was numb myself even more during the rest of the night.  Desperately trying to understand the beginning of love’s union and the loss of love’s union…as the music swirled around me and the shots kept coming at the dance club where we continued the celebration. 

But, I will never forget.  My heart aches even now.  I will always remember him.  I will always wonder how on earth he could cope or have to face such loss and pain in his life as he raises his son alone.  I try to understand how his and his beloved wife’s souls merged only to be torn apart from each other so tragically.  And, at the same time, I hope for a long love-filled and fulfilling partnership for my newly married friends as they embark on their journey together.

Two other souls came together in an unexpected way that evening…mine with his…a permanent prayer for him etched in my essence. 


The Book

Okay, funny little miracle story…the guardian angel kind…


So, I write almost every day.  Most of you know that.  Just a thing.  Gets all the shit out of my head.  Anyway, when my little composition books get filled up, I go through a mini-ceremony and rip up all the pages and throw the pile away.  Purging, I call it!

I figure, what…1986 through 2015–29 years–365 days a year…pick a random figure to reflect an average number of pages I write each day…low, at 3.  And, oh, lawdy, what about those phases when I write 10 or more pages without thinking about it…wow.  I’m either wasting a lot of paper …or I simply have a ton of shit in my head, ay?  Probably both.

Whenever I’m at the Dollar Store…always a protracted plan to hit one, oh, every three months or so…I make sure I pick up my composition books because they’re only a buck.  Plenty of them.  They always have ’em.  Then, I always have ’em.  It’s a habit.  You know the kind:  they’re black.  They’re not too big.  The cover has “Composition Book” printed on it.  Ruled pages.  Soft cardboard covers.  The kind you use in school.  Great for writing journal stuff without having to buy real journals.  Been part of my daily life for years now.

Nothing extraordinary here.

So, this last week, I went looking for an empty book at home and couldn’t find one.  Are you kidding me?  I was surprised…I always have extras.  Oh, hell, I thought….use a legal pad.  Whatever.  Nah, I don’t like writing on legal pads….I prefer those darn little books…where everything is in order and protected by a cover.  But, heck, why not…gonna throw it all away anyway, right?  Because I just did NOT want to do a “Dollar Store Run”.  Not one more special trip for something I can live without.  Not on a holiday weekend.  I have everything else I need…all that stuff you stock up on at those stores…and just didn’t want to make a special run.  I figure, “No big deal.”

Been a week.  Legal pad is half full.  Forgot all about it.


Today, on the way to the laundry, I decide to pick up a few things at the Walmart Grocery Store.  You know…extra charcoal for the weekend.  A pork roast to smoke on the grill.  Odds and ends.  I needed milk.

Do my shopping.  Get everything  I need.  Finally navigate over to the checkout lines.  Always fun at a Walmart Grocery Store.  Start pulling into one…”No!…back up!…Too many people!”  Check out another one.  “Shoot, that lady must be shopping for two months…,” I’m thinkin’.   Another one, “Oh, no.  I just can’t stand behind that lady.”  Parts of her back were hanging over the sides of her scooter…her pink sweater looking like pink water balloons.  I just couldn’t stare at that today.  Nah, not today.  “Dang…I don’t want to hit the self-checkout area…”  So, I finally find a line and pick my spot…only three people…relatively light loads in their carts.  Whew.

I start unloading onto the conveyer belt…still waiting, of course, for the second guy ahead who waited until everything in his cart was already loaded into bags…and THEN he started punching the little credit card thingy.  Oh, well…can’t do anything about it.  Just have to wait.  Be calm.  Sigh.  Just a little time.

So, my eyes wander over to the candy displays.  “No!  No, I say to chocolate!”  Already looked at the magazine covers.  Apparently Kim caught Kanye with his ex.  A shiny one stood out:  “Understanding The Bible Today”….oh, there’s one, I thought—“Only in Oklahoma…wonder if it explains understanding what the Bible is not.”

Yes, I’m wandering in thought.  Distracted.  That daze in the store when you’re almost out…you’re almost free…but ya just have to wait a little longer…thinking about nothing in particular…just biding your time. 

And, then my eyes wander on up to the top of the candy racks.  Smooth stainless steel.  Must be the top of the cooler behind the rack–you know, those mini refrigerators with lemonade and cokes.  Nothing on it but one little thing.  Just one little thing.

“Hmmm.  Is that a composition book sitting there?”

No…it can’t be.  I look again.  I step over just a couple of feet and realize that, yes…it’s a composition book.  I pick it up thinking someone must’ve decided they didn’t want it.  I wonder if it’s marked up or dirty or something.  Maybe it’s got food smushed on the back cover.

Usually, the only things people leave behind are, you know, a package of cheese sitting on top of the Ice Breaker Mints.  Or, a can of soup shoved into the beef jerky slot.  Never anything I want or need.  Or, want to touch.  Kinda cool that out of all things, there’s this black composition book just sitting there.  All by itself.  And, it’s clean!

I actually entertained the thought that maybe I shouldn’t get it…it’s probably three bucks…darn it…”I’m not gonna pay extra for that book when I can get it at the Dollar Store.”  It was my mother channeling through me.  I laughed to myself…and, decide, “Of course, I’m going to get this book!”

I’m smiling now, thinking it’s pretty cool.  How convenient.  I add it to my grocery pile.  Glance up when she scans it.  A whopping 62 cents.  I’m thinking, “I didn’t even know they had these here…hell, and it’s cheaper than the dollar store, too?  You’re kidding me!”

All of a sudden, I find myself in a brilliant mood.  I’m just feeling remarkably content.  Noticeably so.  This is not a feeling I normally associate with while grocery shopping at Walmart, believe me.  Anyway, I smiled…and all the way to the car couldn’t help but thinking…

“No…seriously…you just found a composition book sitting there as if it were meant for you?  Didn’t even have to look for it?  Forgot you even needed one?  Just sitting there waiting for you at the checkout line?  The random checkout line you picked after inspecting all of them?  Wait.  That’s cool.  That’s WAY cool.  A little thing, yup…but it really IS as though…”

And, that’s when I decided it WAS my guardian angel…no doubt.  Or some grand connection of energy I can’t explain that somehow placed this composition book right there…for me…no one else.  A little gift.  In front of me.  A little something I needed but had forgotten about.  Did I somehow know it was there?  It left me with an outstanding feeling of protection…that my needs will always be met–and, in fact, I don’t even have to worry about or remember what those needs are…that someone is looking out for me.  Coincidence?  Nope.  I don’t believe in coincidences.

Okay, no grand miracle here.  Yeah.  Yeah.  It’s not like I was saved from a  car wreck or something dramatic.  It’s not like I saw bright lights and floating clouds in the Walmart Grocery Store.  It’s not like some magical event with angels singing and Jesus’ face appearing in the macaroni salad behind the deli counter.  I get that.

Nope.  Just a composition book.  Just a little thing.  But, for me, a reminder.  A big reminder–that when you really do ‘let it go’…sometimes you get a gift, a little message…that can make you smile and remember that everything is going to be okay–if you slow down, open your eyes and see.

That little composition book was meant for me.

So, I said, “Hey…thanks!” out loud.  In the car, of course–yes, after I shut the door.  Not sure who I was talking to.  But, said it anyway.  And, I cruised home…still in my great mood…and felt like writing out this little story for you.  Doesn’t take much, does it?  Now, especially, I’m kinda looking forward to the weekend!

And, I know where I’m going to get my next Composition Book, too.